Sri Lanka’s new president said Wednesday that his government is preparing a national policy roadmap for the next 25 years that aims to reduce public debt and turn the country into a competitive export economy as it seeks a way out of its worst economic disaster.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his speech to Parliament said that Sri Lanka needs long-term solutions and a solid foundation to stop the recurrence of economic crises.
Massive public protests blamed Wickremesinghe’s ousted predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapakasa, and his powerful family for years of mismanagement and corruption that bankrupted the nation and led to unprecedented shortages of essential imports like fuel, medicine and cooking gas. . But many are still skeptical of Wickremesinghe, accusing him of trying to protect the former leader and his family.
Sri Lanka announced in April that it will suspend payment of foreign loans. Its total external debt is $51 billion, of which it must pay $28 billion by 2027.
Wickremesinghe said his government had started negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a four-year rescue plan and had begun finalizing a debt restructuring plan.
“We will present this plan to the International Monetary Fund in the near future and will negotiate with the countries that provided credit assistance. Subsequently, negotiations with private creditors would also begin to reach a consensus, ”he said.
Wickremesinghe had previously said that negotiations with the IMF have been difficult due to Sri Lanka’s bankruptcy and that the target set for early August for a deal with the agency was not possible and is now expected in September due to social unrest in the country.
He said the difficulties have eased somewhat with the reduction in power outages, the introduction of fertilizers for cultivation and the improvement of gas distribution for cooking.
“Security measures have been taken to avoid food shortages. The transfer of essential drugs and medical equipment to hospitals has begun. Schools have been reopened. Steps are being taken to overcome impediments faced by exporting industries and sectors,” she said.
Instead of relying on foreign loans for fuel imports, Sri Lanka should start a system where export earnings and remittances from foreign workers are used for purchases, Wickremesinghe said.
“We also have to limit selected imports to balance fuel payments. On the other hand, the fuel supply must be reduced. These difficulties would have to be endured until the end of this year.”
He thanked neighboring India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for giving Sri Lanka a breath of life by providing timely assistance through lines of credit and loans to buy food, medicine and fuel.
Wickremesinghe said the government’s goal is to create a primary budget surplus by 2025 and reduce public debt, currently at 140 percent of GDP, to less than 100 percent by 2032.
“The economy must modernize. Economic stability must be established and transformed into a competitive export economy. In that context, we are now preparing the necessary reports, plans, rules and regulations, laws and programs,” he said.
“If we build the country, the nation and the economy through national economic policy, we can become a fully developed country by the year 2048, when we celebrate the centenary of independence,” Wickremesinghe said.
Wickremesinghe was elected president last month to complete the remainder of Rajapaksa’s five-year term, which ends in 2024. Rajapaksa fled the country after protesters, angered by economic hardship, stormed his official residence and occupied several government buildings. key code.
Wickremesinghe cracked down on the protests and many protest leaders have been arrested on charges of trespassing and damaging public property. The protest camps set up in front of the president’s office were dismantled by armed soldiers who beat the demonstrators.
However, Wickremesinghe denied on Wednesday that he was “hunting down” the protesters.
He said he will protect peaceful protesters and has opened an office to handle complaints of any wrongdoing. People who broke the law unknowingly or at the instigation of others will be treated “with sympathy,” while those who were intentionally involved in the violence will be prosecuted, she said.
Wickremesinghe said that since young people had taken the lead in the protests and wanted a change in the political system, it will make way for more young people to attend Parliament in the upcoming elections.
“The next election must be the youth term. I consider that the creation of a new constitution with new attitudes to give space to the youth is one of the main priority tasks. “
He sought friendship between political parties, saying that only an all-party government can solve the country’s problems.
“The expectation of all citizens of the country at this juncture is that all their representatives in Parliament work together to build the country,” he said.